Beat the scammers

Beat the scammers

19th June 2020

Now more than ever, we all need to be savvy about scams

by Myles Fitt, CAS spokesperson on Financial Health.

This article was originally published in the Herald newspaper on 17 June 2020.

This week saw the launch of the annual Scams Awareness Campaign, which aims to highlight the risk of scams and encourage people to report them.

This multi-agency campaign is based on the fact that a scam is a crime, and that people who try to scam others are breaking the law. After all, if somebody came up to you in the street and stole £20 from your pocket, you wouldn’t just let them walk away with it. You’d call the police. This campaign argues that your response should be exactly the same if the theft is perpetrated online, by phone, or on your doorstep.

Because the crime is the same. A scam is an attempt to steal money from you by deception. And if it works, then it is theft, and should be treated as such.

Research shows that some people who have been hit by scams don’t report them because they are embarrassed. But it’s only by reporting these crimes - including the unsuccessful attempts - that scams can be identified and other people protected from them.

I myself was targeted by a scam at the weekend. I had recently been active on PayPal - for the first time in years - and lo and behold I received an email saying I’d sent a payment of £80 to an organisation I hadn’t heard of, and I was asked to click on a link if I hadn’t authorised this. I didn’t click the link and instead went to check my PayPal account, and of course there was no evidence of this payment.

And I’m by no means alone. Some estimates suggest that half the population are hit by attempted scams every year, many of them more than once. In the CAB network we see cases of people losing hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Like every other aspect of our lives, coronavirus has had an impact on this issue as well. Scammers have always been very good at adapting to take advantage of changing circumstances, and sadly the pandemic is no exception. Citizens Advice research this week revealed that over a third of adults in Britain have been targeted by a scam since lockdown began.

We’ve seen reports of face masks and medical equipment being advertised at hugely inflated prices, messages pretending to be from the government and falsely offering life insurance against the virus, as well as people asking for donations to supposed charities - taking advantage of the sense of community spirit we’ve seen during the pandemic.

And as we all conduct more of our lives online as a result of lockdown, digital scams are a bigger risk than ever. Police Scotland, as part of their ‘Shut Out Scammers’ campaign, reports that fraudsters are increasingly targeting us with emails, texts and WhatsApp messages, and there has been a growth in websites offering fake ‘cures’ or testing kits. Cold callers meanwhile are contacting organisations and wrongly suggesting they must have specific measures in place by a certain deadline.

Perpetrators of such scams will have calculated that their efforts are likely to have more potency during the pandemic as people are more vulnerable, due to its attendant physical, emotional and financial pressures. This is particularly so when the scam appears to come from an official source.

Vigilance is the key. For example if you see emails or texts from someone you don't know, or from an unusual address, don't click on any links or buy anything. Don't respond to any emails or texts asking for personal or financial information: reputable organisations will never ask for such information in that way. Similarly, don’t let anyone pressure you into making a quick purchase, and remember the old adage: if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Reporting scams is important. If you feel threatened or unsafe, contact Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency. You can report any scams to Citizens Advice Scotland’s Scams Action web-chat service. And if you receive any suspicious emails, forward them to the National Cyber Security Centre’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS) - which is exactly what I did with my fraudulent PayPal email.

But you can also help to fight scams just by talking more about them. Because scammers rely on our reluctance to spread the word. Their worst nightmare is a society of people who are watching out for them, reporting them to the police and other agencies, and sharing the information with each other through social media and word of mouth.

So let’s keep all of this in mind, not just this week but throughout the year. Scams are nothing new, but sadly they do seem to be getting ever more common and more sophisticated.

However, all that means is that we have to work together to beat them.